Thursday, March 30, 2006
James Gunn is an alumnus of Troma Entertainment, the little B-movie horror company that keeps just keeps going... and going... and going. Troma, now in its fourth decade, produced such delightful schlock titles as Toxic Avenger, Tromeo and Juliet and Terror Firmer . Gunn seems to have learned a lot from Troma, a company that has smartly worked within its budgetary limits and cleverly exploited its horror audience. Troma is the company that you can find at Comic-Con running seminars on how to make a movie on $50 a day or how to do gore effects for five bucks. Troma is unabashedly unashamed of the sleaze it cranks out. Gunn's Slither is like a high-end Troma product, and is fueled by a similar sense of glee.
The film opens with a pair of cops sitting in their patrol car in the sleepy city of Wheelsy. It's nighttime and absolutely nothing is happening. One cop uses the radar gun to check the speed of a passing bird. But of course he's completely oblivious to the meteor chunk that's just crash-landed in the woods right behind him. The meteor contains a particularly gross and slimy alien creature that embeds itself in the first human host that comes its way. That victim turns out to be Grant Grant (Michael Rooker), a well to do local businessman who somehow managed to hook himself a trophy wife in Starla (Elizabeth Banks), the town's blonde beauty. Grant's alien encounter soon turns him into a slimed up, Jaba the Hut-sized behemoth with multiple tentacles. Police Chief Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion of Firefly and Serenity fame) refers to the creature as a squid (for lack of a better term) and uses little squid stickers to mark its progress on the map as it feeds on livestock at local farms.
Slither tries to do for the bath what Psycho did for the shower. (Universal)
But what Pardy doesn't realize is that the Grant squid monster has impregnated Brenda, a local tart, with his alien spawn. Pregnant Brenda, who has the munchies for raw meat and lots of it, expands to mobile home-size proportions until she literally bursts open and sprays thousands of nasty little alien slugs out into the quiet community. These slugs, like the creatures in David Cronenberg's They Came From Within , are parasites in need of human hosts, slithering into any open mouth they can find. Initially, the slug-infested human host appears dead. But that's not much fun, so Gunn has the victims come back to life as a kind of flesh-eating zombie. And to make things even more interesting, each of these slug-infested-human-turned-zombie creatures are mentally connected to Grant, who's now set on destroying the planet. But a piece of the human Grant still lurks within the beast, and Starla hopes to exploit that in order to save the planet.
Slither is a gleeful gorefest that pays homage to every horror film that writer-director James Gunn ever enjoyed. The film is fueled by the giddy enthusiasm of a horror geek let loose on a movie set to create his own film. Gunn's contagious enthusiasm is evident in every frame as he crafts a clever horror-comedy that mixes laughs with splatter effects. Although the film is funny, Gunn's never jokey about horror in the way Scream was (making you laugh because it knew it couldn't really scare you). Instead, Gunn finds humor in the incongruity of a quiet little town facing mass destruction, and in sending up certain all-too-familiar horror conventions. At last year's Comic-Con, Gunn (whose writing credits include Scooby Doo and the Dawn of the Dead remake) spoke at a panel professing his love for B-horror films, and talked about making this film an homage to all the movies he loved watching. The result is a film that's a smart mix of old school prosthetics and state of the art CGI work. In other words, there's a nice balance of slickness and cheesiness.
The make up and creature effects by Todd Masters and his effects crew are excellent. There really is a different quality to scenes that have a live actor in creature make-up interacting with the other performers as opposed to a CGI inserted effect. Plus, the look of the creature make-up harkens back to older horror flicks and offers a certain sense of nostalgia for 80s invasion flicks such as Critters, Gremlins , and Night of the Creeps . But the film also boasts some well-integrated CGI work.
Gun also casts his film well. Rooker, the serial killer from Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer , invests the Grant-monster with enough humanity to make him interesting and just a little sad. Fillion's Pardy has a nice dry wit that lightens even the most tense situations. And Gregg Henry, as the foul-mouthed and spineless mayor, is a hoot. Banks is appealing as Starla who doesn't quite know how to handle her hubby's transformation, and Tania Saulnier is good as a teen terrorized by her slug-infested family.
Slither (rated R for language, sexual content and violence) is not as smart nor as satisfying as Shaun of the Dead but it does offer a fun and fast-paced horror ride. This is the perfect film for horror geeks who miss watching B-monster movies at the drive-in. (And just as a note, this Slither has nothing to do with the 1973 con man comedy of the same name that starred James Caan and Sally Kellerman.)
Companion viewing: Toxic Avenger, Night of the Living Dead, Shaun of the Dead, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Blob, They Came From Within